"I have no idea what I'm going to play when I get to that solo" – Brian May reveals the classic Queen song he improvises most live… and the track he takes the opposite approach with

Brian May of Queen performs at Chase Center on November 08, 2023 in San Francisco, California.
(Image credit: Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images)

Queen legend Sir Brian May breaks down his playing on some of the band's biggest songs in the new issue of Total Guitar magazine. And amongst the classics including Bohemian Rhapsody and We Will Rock You is the Roger Taylor-penned track with the 'shreddy' guitar breaks May likes to have fun with live – and it involves a lot of improvisation and rocket fire. 

"I don’t usually play them these days!" says May of the fast runs on the recorded versions of A Kind Of Magic – a song that's also tabbed in full in the new issue of Total Guitar. "I just like to go off and do my own thing, really. It’s an opportunity to have some fun with it. And if I was actually going to play those licks, it would be like being in a straitjacket because they’re difficult to play and I would be worried about my fingers being in the right place – and I don’t enjoy that! I’d much prefer to just do what comes into my head. 

"And that’s one of the places in the show these days where I have no idea what I’m going to play when I get to that solo," he adds. "And I like it to be that way, so it can go anywhere."

I also have an extra weapon, which is the rocket I use

One of the added ways May has fun with the song on tour with singer Adam Lambert is with some added rocket power.

"I also have an extra weapon, which is the rocket I use," he explains to Total Guitar. "You know, we fire rockets during this song. I fire the rocket. It’s a childish toy, but it means that I can fire rockets in the air exactly the way I always dreamed of doing it when we made the video for that song."

In the song's video from 1986, May has animated fireworks coming out of the headstock of his Red Special. Now he can do it for real thanks to a modification on a designated guitar with the pyro-launching equipment built onto it. 

"Yes, it is childish, but it gives me such a lot of pleasure," says the guitarist. And I can do it whenever I want. It’s a surprise for the audience. And the solo builds itself around that.

"So, those are the little peaks where the rockets come out," he adds. "And I kind of fill in the gaps and try to lead the audience towards wondering what’s going to happen next. I have a lot of fun with it really. To me, it’s a lot better than kind of showing off and doing the fast stuff. There is a little bit of fast stuff still in it, but it’s basically playing with the audience. That’s what I like to do at that point."

May's improvisational runs on the song are in stark contrast to his approach to recreating his memorable solo on Don't Stop Me Now live.

"I’ve had years and years to live with it, and every time the solo comes up live, I think, well, actually I can’t do much better than that!" says May. "So I tend to play it more or less as it is on the record – with little variations. But it just works as a counter melody for the main melody."

Brian May / Total Guitar magazine

(Image credit: Future)
  • Buy the new issue of Total Guitar with the full Brian May interview, a lesson on the essential techniques behind 13 of Queen's greatest songs, plus full tab for A Kind Of Magic here
Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.